Self-portrait, Study of a Hand and a Pillow (recto); Six Studies of Pillows (verso)

Artist: Albrecht Dürer (German, Nuremberg 1471–1528 Nuremberg)

Date: 1493

Medium: Pen and brown ink

Dimensions: 10 15/16 x 7 15/16 in. (27.8 x 20.2 cm)

Classification: Drawings

Credit Line: Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

Accession Number: 1975.1.862


In this extraordinary series of studies, Albrecht Durer has captured his own image and that of several pillows on the sheet’s front and back with incomparable brilliance, achieving at a tender age a calligraphic precision and expressiveness of line of unexcelled clarity. The self-portrait - of which the head was drawn using a mirror and the hand directly from the model - occupies an important place in the artist’s series of self-characterizations. It is generally agreed that it relates and perhaps was preparatory to a painted self-portrait of the same year, 1493, now in the Louvre in Paris. The painting probably served as an engagement or courting portrait for the young suitor.
As an example of the young draftsman’s awakening sense of himself as an artist, and as a signal of his growing awareness of the interplay of subject and viewer - the sitter and creator as one - this drawing stands as one of the most important early visual documents of the modern era. On the sheet’s verso, he has penned the changing forms of this single object in three vertical pairs. Much has been made of the human facial features which seem to emerge from the lumps and folds of the drapery.